With the entire state battling an extended drought, State Senator Mike McGuire is preparing for an active fire season on the North Coast.
“The era of megafires, it’s here,” said McGuire. “With this drought emergency underway, and moisture levels already at record lows in our forests and in our wildlands, we are looking at yet another tough wildland fire year.”
McGuire hosted a remote meeting with the Coastal Conservancy on Monday to address steps the state is taking to bolster wildfire prevention in the region. Among those steps, the state expects to invest more than $1 billion in wildfire prevention and response, as well as hiring more CalFire firefighters and improving emergency communication services.
Of the money allocated to state wildfire operations, at least $380 million will go toward prevention efforts, including vegetation management. According to McGuire, the state estimates there are 120 million dead and dying trees in the Sierra and Coastal ranges. In addition to dead and dying tree removal, the state will work with communities to remove brush and create firebreaks — a gap in vegetation around populated areas that acts as a barrier.
Two other major fire prevention grants are also available to local governments and fire departments through the state, equaling $280 million in potential funding. Those being the CalFire Forest Health and the Fire Prevention grants.
What’s more, CalFire is looking to add 1,200 more firefighters this year throughout the state.
“That’s going to mean dozens of additional positions on top of what we had in 2020, on the North Coast here in 2021,” said McGuire.
CalFire is updating its firefighting air fleet this year, which is the largest public firefighting fleet in the world, Mcguire said. They will be replacing their 12 Vietnam era helicopters with 12 modern Sikorsky Black Hawk helicopters. Additionally, the state is adding seven new cargo planes, which were retired from the Coast Guard. The state also contracts with other fleets during peak fire season.
During the meeting, McGuire and Mary Small, chief deputy executive officer at the Coastal Conservancy, fielded questions submitted by the public. One resident asked about improvements in cellular service, which can be unreliable during active fires.
McGuire fielded the question. He said a new state law will require telecommunication companies to supply 72 hours of backup power to select cell towers. Meaning, if the power is shut off due to fire risk, cell service will still be online, according to McGuire. He said there is a similar rule for landlines.
Another resident asked about how to volunteer to assist with fire prevention in their community.
Small recommended getting in touch with your local government or land management agency to learn more about volunteer opportunities.